Lead Who writer Steven Moffat is very good at having it both ways, delivering twists that somehow end up approaching the ending you expected in an unexpected way. So it was for this, the last adventure the Doctor would share with Rory and Amy.
The story opens in New York, 1938. A hackneyed gumshoe is summoned to the home of a mob boss, a man who clearly rules by fear yet is terrified himself. Terrified of what? Statues that move when nobody is looking. Yes, it's the Weeping Angels again. The gumshoe goes to investigate the address where these statues congregate and discovers a dying old man – himself, sent back in time so that the Angels can feast on the displaced time energy of the life he would have led.
Cue our travelling trio in modern day New York, there apparently for no greater reason than a picnic in the park. The Doctor is annoying his companions by reading aloud from a pulpy crime novel about a sexy femme fatale called Melody Malone, the events of which begin to echo real life when Rory leaves to get coffee and never returns. He, too, has fallen prey to the Angels and now the Doctor and Amy are left trying to land the TARDIS even as a complex swirl of time vortices surrounding the year make it impossible. “It's 1938,” gasps the Doctor. “We bounced off it.”
At the heart of it all is River Song, the Doctor's wife and also Rory and Amy's daughter. Anyone coming to this series without having seen the previous seasons will have a hell of time putting that little timeline together. River helps the Doctor find a way to land, at which point the story takes the first of many dark turns.
All the film noir homages of the first act fall away at this point, and it becomes clear why the Weeping Angels have been dusted off yet again. They're a fantastic monster, tapping into something primal and eerie, yet they're also severely limited in their narrative potential purely by virtue of their on-screen immobility. As creepy as they are, there's a limit to what you can do with a foe that we never see moving, and there's a danger that they could become over-exposed as writers wheel them out for an easy jolt each season.
Moffat knows what he's doing though, and he's using the Angels less as an easy source of shivers up the spine and more for their allegorical power. Beneath their spookhouse stone surface, the Angels are scary because, as the Doctor explains, they kill you with life. They don't murder you, they just cut you adrift and leave you to grow old, alone and unloved, out of your own time. That's the fear of any couple contemplating the rest of their lives, and it's a fear that our heroes must face up to rather more literally after they witness Rory's wizened future self dying in the same tenement block as the hapless pre-credits private eye. It's a battery farm, a feedback loop that provides infinite sustenance for the Angels, sending victims back from 2012 to 1938 and keeping them cooped up as snacks on demand, a seemingly unbreakable cycle that, coincidentally, has echoes of Looper, that great sci-fi movie in theaters right now.
So having witnessed his death, Rory's fate is now fixed, and the only way out is for him to escape the building rather than growing old there, creating a paradox that will “poison the well” that the Angels so eagerly feast from. With the stairs blocked by more Angels, Rory and Amy flee to the roof where the Statue of Liberty – apparently a giant Weeping Angel, which recasts the ending of Ghostbusters II in a fun new light – looms over them. Rory seizes on another paradox that might free them from this trap. If he throws himself off the roof, he'll have died twice, on the same night, in the same place. Together, Rory and Amy step off into oblivion...and time is rewritten.
Back in the present, everyone gets reunited, the paradox having ensured that none of what happened, happened. It's a hoary old get-out clause beloved of many a time travel yarn, but it's a distraction. One of the Angels survived and it zaps Rory back again. This time, there's no way to go back and rescue him, the fabric of space-time around Manhattan in 1938 now so fragile that to take the TARDIS there would obliterate the city. Confronted with the gravestone that shows Rory dies in New York at the age of 82, and against the Doctor's tearful protests, Amy gives herself to the Angel as well, so that she might be reunited with her husband. The headstone changes, revealing that both Rory and Amy lived, grew old and died together, beyond the Doctor's reach.
It's a powerful conclusion, and one that is all the more impressive given that both Rory and Amy have endured similar challenges before. The script turns Rory's early reputation as the character who dies only to be brought back to life into something rather noble, while Amy almost suffered an identical fate in last season's The Girl Who Waited, cut off from her friends and forced to grow old by herself. Same idea, but the handling here is far more assured and weighty, the stakes more meaningful. It's a theme that pretty much demands a definitive and poignant ending, and it finally gets one here, with no neat last minute reversal to restore the status quo. Sometimes, it's just time for people to go. Amy makes peace with that idea almost immediately. The Doctor, a man who is reborn every time he dies, fights it with every fiber of his being.
It's a resolution that manages to be both oddly happy and desperately sad at the same time. Two beloved characters have died, but they also got to grow old in peace, which isn't a luxury the Doctor's companions have always enjoyed. The story, ultimately, is about death as something inevitable that all the time travel in the universe can't change. There's a bitter sweet comfort to the way it's presented. The hints have been dropped heavily. We suspected Amy and Rory would die, and indeed they did. It's sad to see them go, but it's hard to feel too sad for the ending they got. It's an appropriate conclusion for the Doctor's first married companions, one that better reflects the reality of death than any contrived melodramatic sacrifice or violent tragic end conjured up to deliver a narrative gut punch.
Not that this makes it easy for the man they left behind. For the Doctor, this is the most painful loss of all – having friends granted the one thing he can never have, in a place he can never visit. It reinforces his outsider nature – River even describes him as “an ageless god with with the face of a 12-year-old” - and manages to paint him as both melancholy figure of pity and brave, selfless hero in one deft stroke.
What quibbles the story throws up on the way to this satisfying send-off are hardly worth bothering with. The image of Lady Liberty as a giant fang-faced Weeping Angel is brilliant, but largely illogical. The whole point of the Angels is that they're powerless if anybody looks at them. Are we supposed to believe that an iconic landmark is able to walk across the city that never sleeps without drawing a single gaze? The conceit of the pulp novel, written after the fact by River Song in order to lead the Doctor to 1938, is also a tad flaky and sometimes skews a little too closely to Bill and Ted's hilariously convenient approach to time travel.
And while the TARDIS can't go back to New York in 1938, it's clearly fine being there in 2012. Couldn't he just go back to a later year, one that hasn't been scarred by paradox, and pick them up? Technically, the answer is probably yes. Emotionally, the answer is an emphatic no. Their journey has ended, and ended well. For the Doctor, an uncertain future awaits. For us, the long wait for the Christmas Day special and the start of another new era.